US reintroduces legislation to prevent illegal foreign seafood harvesting

The US Coast Guard high-endurance cutter USCGC Jarvis interdicts two vessels suspected of illegal fishing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, date unknown. (Photo: US Coast Guard)

US Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) recently reintroduced the Fighting Foreign Illegal Seafood Harvest (FISH) Act, legislation to combat foreign illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by blacklisting offending vessels from US ports and waters.

The legislation would bolster the US Coast Guard’s enforcement capabilities and advance international and bilateral negotiations to achieve enforceable agreements and treaties. Specifically, the bipartisan legislation would protect Rhode Island’s fishing industry by quashing unfair competition from illegal pirate fishing.

Senator Sullivan said the legislation will tackle the foreign threat posed by vessels and countries that ravage fish stocks without regard for other users. Steps will include expanding inspection and enforcement, raising the costs for the purveyors of foreign illegal fishing, and working with other nations to eliminate any safe harbour for illegal fishermen and their backers.

Senator Sullivan said the FISH Act is “an all-hands-on-deck effort” to crack down on foreign IUU fishing.

Senators Whitehouse and Sullivan first introduced the FISH Act in August 2022. The bipartisan act would build on prior landmark legislation against IUU fishing signed into law in December 2019 as part of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Key provisions of the FISH Act include the following:

  • Direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish a blacklist of foreign vessels and owners that have engaged in IUU fishing.
  • Direct the administration to address IUU fishing in any relevant international agreements.
  • Direct the US Coast Guard to increase its at-sea inspection of foreign vessels suspected of IUU fishing, and coordinate with regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) to determine if a vessel’s flag state is taking corrective action.
  • Direct the administration to report to Congress on how new technologies can aid in the fight against IUU fishing, the complexities of the seafood trade relationship between Russia and China, and the success of prosecutions against IUU fishermen operating in US waters.

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